The limbic system has the dubious honor of sounding alarms. We may have a love-hate relationship with our limbic brain but like it or not, it's essential to our well-being.
Unfortunately it can also be a source of a good deal of unhappiness.
When the limbic brain causes us to jump back from the precipice of danger, it is performing the laudable job of keeping us alive and well. But there are some wrinkles.
Sometimes it sounds its early warning signal unnecessarily. Maybe we had a bad experience in the past that is coloring our perceptions in the present, a present where no danger actually lurks. But try telling your limbic brain that.
The limbic brain has the messy job of handling some pretty murky depths of human experience. Here is the realm of anxiety and fear, anger and rage.
Primal responses surge from the limbic brain. Emotions, feelings, moods, and sexual urges are all in the domain of the limbic system. It rules the interactions of hormones and the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system by its turn regulates basic fundamentals like breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension. It holds the keys to your waking and sleeping -- or lack of it -- and your experience of stress, including your ability to handle it.
Oh, and did I mention that the limbic system is also the central processor of your experience of pain? Awesome.
Here's how it works.
The thalamus directs pain messages in two directions, to the cerebral cortex and to the limbic system. The cerebral cortex is where your thoughts take shape, and the limbic system is where you have an emotional response to whatever is going on.
The cerebral cortex gets down to business, determining where the pain is coming from, and the extent of any damage. It will marshal a physical response, like getting away from danger, and initiates body processes to handle the security breach.
The limbic system meanwhile is reacting to the situation with powerful emotions like fear, anxiety or anger. The pain messages from the cerebral cortex can be decreased or increased by the limbic brain's response.